French authorities have launched an investigation into the extremist group Génération identitaire on the grounds of incitement to racial hatred. Following an anti-migrant action earlier this month in the Pyrenees, the interior minister also said he would consider shutting the group down.
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said Tuesday that he had been "outraged" by the activities of members of the right-wing group Génération identitaire (GI), who gathered at the Col du Portillon pass on the border of France and Spain last week.
About 30 members of the group, wearing their trademark identical blue jackets, flew a drone over the border, saying they were combatting "the terrorist and migrant risk in the Pyrenees." They referred to this action as a surveillance operation to "defend Europe."
GI activists have carried out several such actions in the mountains in recent years, sometimes erecting their own "fences" at migrant crossing points.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Darmanin said that he was looking into banning the group. "If there is enough evidence, I will not hesitate to advise closing [the group] down," he said.
The public prosector in Saint-Gaudens, a town near the Portillon pass, said that he had opened an inquiry into alleged "incitement to racial hatred" by the GI activists.
"The very clear anti-immigration statements on their banner and indeed the very reason this banner was used" justified the inquiry, prosecutor Christophe Amunzateguy told the AFP news agency. He said that organizers of the march on the border region would be summoned for questioning.
Since the blockade, which began on 19 January, there have been several calls for the government to shut down the right-wing group. This is the first time Darmanin has publicly condemned the group's actions.
'We have never been condemned'
Génération identitaire says it is confident that efforts to shut it down will fail: "There have already been studies done on dissolving us but we are blameless, justice is on our side," the president of the movement, Clément Gandelin told AFP. "Gérald Darmanin will not be able to dissolve us easily. We have never been condemned," he said.
However, in August 2019, the leader of GI and two other activists were sentenced to six months in prison after they had set up a blockade in the French Alps and rented two helicopters to search for migrants. A group of around 100 pro-migrant activists gathered at the site and escorted around 30 migrants into France, leading to scuffles with police.
Following the action, Génération Identitaire was accused of vigilantism, and the three GI members were charged with trying to pass themselves off as police officers, though an appeals court overturned that ruling last December.
A difficult dissolution
In 2019, the dissolution of several far-right groups, including Bastion social, Blood and Honour and Combat 18, were announced at the request of French President Emmanuel Macron. However, shutting down Génération Identitaire seems to be a more difficult task.
"They are smarter than the others, they try as much as possible not to cross the line, but every time they push the cork a little harder into the bottle," the interior ministry told AFP.
An anonymous source from the security services told AFP that the sticking point was "judicial."
"You need to find proof [of wrongdoing]. Génération Identitaire are very careful to not implicate themselves in anything they write, on the net or in print," the source said.
On the GI website, however, the message doesn't seem very ambiguous. One post there reads: "[...] multicultural society means chaos, a battle on every street corner. Living together? Why should we live with those we hate?"
Those who want to shut down the group are looking at how their actions could be judged as "provoking discrimination, inciting hatred or violence towards a person or group of people on the basis of where they come from," in accordance with French law. Another potential line of inquiry to shut the organization down would be to find evidence to support the accusation that the group is "a military organization with the character of a combat group or a private militia."
With AFP, InfoMigrants French